Month: October 2015

Starwood may be close to finding its elusive strategic alternative: CNBC reports that Hyatt Hotels is in advanced talks to acquire the larger Starwood Hotels, although no formal offer has yet been made.

CNBC says a formal offer could come in a week or two.

Hyatt’s interest in acquiring Starwood, which owns brands ranging from Westin and Sheraton to St. Regis, follows a Wall Street Journal story yesterday that three Chinese companies are separately actively pursuing a Starwood acquisition.

CNBC says a Hyatt acquisition of Starwood would be a cash and stock deal with an acquisition price as yet unknown.

Both Starwood and Hyatt, which is controlled by the Pritzker family, are public companies. CNBC reports that Hyatt’s management team would be in charge of the combined company.

Hyatt’s entry into the Starwood sweepstakes comes as a surprise since Hyatt, with a market cap of $7.46 billion today, is a much smaller chain than Starwood, which boasts a $13.58 billion market cap.

Starwood announced in April that it would be mulling strategic alternatives, having earlier seen the surprise resignation of CEO Frits van Paasschen. InterContinental Hotels Group had earlier been involved in discussions with Starwood but IHG announced weeks ago that it was dropping out.

Article source : Skift

In South Africa, the Tsogo Sun hotel brand has a solid presence in both urban hubs and in more rural areas, and is reportedly the largest listed hotel and tourism company in South Africa. The company’s portfolio covers more than 90 hotels in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, the UAE and the Seychelles. Perhaps most significantly, Tsogo Sun both owns and operates almost all of its hotels, keeping the business firmly in-house, as Belinda Pedersen, the company’s general manager of international sales, told Hotel Management.

In April, Tsogo Sun reached an agreement with the owners of the site of Cape Town’s former Tulip hotel for the construction of a three-star, 500-room hotel complex at a total investment of R680 million. The new hotel will consist of two products in one complex, a 200-room SunSquare hotel and a 300-room StayEasy hotel. The project is expected to be completed by September 2017. Pedersen indicated that a five-star Cape Town hotel might be in the works, but the details had not yet been confirmed. In Johannesburg’s Fourways neighborhood, Tsogo Sun is also planning to open another three- or four-star hotel.

Investing in African hotels for African travelers
Tsogo Sun’s midscale brands seem to be attracting the most business, Pedersen said. “The three-star hotels are doing phenomenal,” she claimed, noting that they frequently attract the domestic market. “Our four-star brand is also very superior, and I think that’s where our strongest segment has been since inception of Tsogo Sun. Three- and four-star hotels are probably our biggest focus at the moment. That’s where the most investment will go.”

In terms of investment, Pedersen said, “millions and millions” of rand have “gone back” into the company’s hotels for refurbishment and expansions. The Sandton Sun hotel is under going a R250 million renovation, and the the Cullinan and the Southern Sun Waterfront have emerged from refurbishment. A hotel in Kruger National Park, the Sabi River Sun, just had 12 million in refurbishment. “A lot of money has gone back into the properties, which is very encouraging,” Pedersen said. (So many properties are undergoing renovations that the company has a list on its website of refurbishments in progress.)

Financial strength and international partnerships
According to Tsogo Sun’s Chairman’s and Chief Executive Officer’s review from August, the company’s most recent fiscal year saw a downturn due to the overall recession affecting Southern Africa in the wake of last year’s ebola scare. A deal to acquire a 40 percent stake in the GrandWest and Worcester casinos in the Cape province was cancelled in July 2015 “as it became clear that we would be unable to conclude the regulatory process before the deadline for the transaction,” Chairman John Copelyn said in the review statement. “Enhancing the group’s presence in the Western Cape gaming market remains an opportunity going forward.”

But Copelyn expects that the 2016 financial year should reflect better growth. The group is considering creating an entertainment and hospitality focused REIT into which it would transfer its owned hotel, retail and office property portfolio. Shareholder Hosken Consolidated Investments has a concentrated holding of 47.6 percent following the share buy-back from SABMiller’s 2014 exit, which also resulted in a broadening of the shareholder base. “In addition, the introduction of the HNA group out of China as the largest buyer in the SABMiller share sale is expected to open new opportunities to the group in the future,” Copelyn said in the statement.

But apart from HNA’s investment—which Pederson estimates at about 5 percent of Tsogo Sun’s shares—the company is not looking to partner internationally. “Tsogo Sun is very rich in equity at the moment,” she said, citing income from the company’s casino holdings, “so they haven’t looked at bringing in external partners at this stage.” Tsogo Sun recently invested in a European company, she noted, but is not planning to own or operate any hotels in Europe.

By focusing on Africa, she added, and both owning and operating between 80 and 90 percent of their properties, the company has remained truly African. “Everything flows into one,” she said. “We’ve got one team that oversees all properties. Everything is under one umbrella.”

Article source: HotelManagement

This article is part one of a three-part series on fake booking websites.

On isolated occasions, misplacing a guest’s reservation can happen, but hotels take mistakes such as these very seriously. It’s a different matter entirely when a guest arrives at a hotel having booked a room at a rate that is not being offered by the hotel, with a third-party site that cannot be verified.

Fake booking websites can cheat guests out of money and cause operational headaches for hotels, and are such a danger that the Federal Trade Commission is now targeting them. Online bookings comprise the vast majority of hotel bookings the world over, and travelers are susceptible to offering money and their personal information to entities not affiliated with hotels, stranding themselves when they eventually arrive at their destination.

Anywhere a monetary transaction can take place, so, too, can scams occur. “We realized when we first created and published our own site that there was potential for online fraud,” said Felipe Carreras, director, eCommerce for Best Western International. “Over the years since, we have taken a number of steps to ensure not only the security of guests when they are on our site, but also to position our site so as to avoid confusion with guests.”

Confusion can be difficult to combat in an environment that changes as quickly as the Internet. Creating a website has never been easier, and Carreras said that over the past 12 to 18 months the number of travel sites online has exploded. “There are so many tools available to make sites from templates that technical skills are no longer necessary,” Carreras said.




Article Source: Hotel Management

China’s ambitions in Africa are well-documented. Its annual trade with the resource-rich continent recently surpassed $200 billion, and Chinese agencies and firms have invested heavily in building badly needed roads, railways, and public buildings. Meanwhile, more than 1 million Chinese have reportedly left home to seek their fortunes in African nations.

Those ties may be drawing China and Africa closer, but that doesn’t mean everyday Chinese understand the continent terribly well. For example: “Why does South Africa have so many white people?” is the leading autocompleted result for queries about that country posed to Baidu, China’s largest search engine. Baidu’s autocomplete feature works similar to Google’s: When someone begins typing into the search box, an algorithm displays a list of suggested ways to finish the query, in part by combing the engine’s archives for previously popular searches. Those automatic suggestions often have the added benefit of sifting through layers of online discourse to uncover the profound and (often amusingly) mundane questions that often lead people to search for answers.

Below, Foreign Policy plots and translates the most common Chinese-language Baidu query associated with each African country onto the map below:

The leading queries for many African countries indicate that Chinese web users’ feelings about the continent mirror those of Westerners — they often associate it with violence, poverty, disease, and exotic dining habits. This is evident in country-by-country results but also is clear in searches about Africa as a whole:

Certain results are uniquely Chinese. Baidu’s top suggestion for Egypt asks why that country is more ancient than China, indicating that the pride with which Chinese people compare their civilization’s long history to that of Europe, and especially to that of the United States, wilts somewhat in the shadow of the pyramids at Giza.

Issues handed down by Africa’s complicated history top the results for other countries as well. Netizens ask how Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana came to be known as Ivory Coast and Gold Coast, respectively. Queries about Algeria and Libya being attacked by French and U.S. forces hint at Western interventions old and new. And then there is the legacy of imperialism, apartheid, and reconciliation that accounts for the prevalence of Caucasians in Africa’s “rainbow nation.”

Perhaps the most puzzling result from either method simply asks why Gambians are so “nb” — an abbreviation of niubi, a Chinese slang term that loosely translates as a sarcastic spin on “awesome” (but which, in fact, means something far more vulgar). This search leads to multiple bulletin boards bearing a list of purported threats by the tiny West African nation to variously invade and occupy the Soviet Union, North America, and most of Europe, as well as help Taiwan complete its reconquista of the Chinese mainland. FP was unable to verify these claims independently, though in fairness they don’t sound out of place given past proclamations by the country’s colorful leader.

Searches about violence sometimes take on a Chinese twist with the word luan — usually translated as “chaos,” a freighted word often used to connote political and social instability. References to luan crop up in results for South Africa, but are most common in those of Somalia. Netizens also ask why what the Economist called “the world’s most utterly failed state,” Somalia, has no government, why it hates America, and why it has pirates.

On a lighter note, searches about soccer are common. The “African Lions” that top Cameroon’s suggested searches refers to that country’s national football team. Baidu also notes that Nigeria’s team is called the “Eagles,” though that search is dwarfed by multiple queries about that country’s brief ban from international competition last year. Recent headlines also inspired a leading result for the Central African Republic, where sectarian strife led to acts of cannibalism.

The methodology involved typing the question prompt “Why is [country X]…,” though limited results for some countries led in a few cases to FP’s casting a wider net by simply typing the country’s name to see what connections Baidu would autocomplete. This approach yields the out-of-left-field results for Madagascar, Burundi (a species of fish native to a local lake), and Sudan (the seeds of a local variety of sorghum), among a handful of others. This more open-ended method succeeded in generating the results for every country, although the map above does not plot countries that only yielded results common to many nations, including references to tourism, travel expenses, business visas, and the cost of freight. Searches to populate this map were conducted from a computer in Shanghai between Aug. 14 and Aug. 17, and results tend to change over time, so readers may not be able to replicate them precisely.

Article source: FP

Ethiopia and neighbor Djibouti signed an agreement for a $1.55 billion fuel pipeline with developers Mining, Oil & Gas Services and Blackstone Group LP-backed Black Rhino Group.

The two countries in the Horn of Africa signed framework agreements on Tuesday for construction of the 550-kilometer (340-mile) line to transport diesel, gasoline and jet fuel from port access in Djibouti to central Ethiopia, the companies said. Financial close is expected in 2016, with construction scheduled for completion two years later.

Growth in landlocked Ethiopia has surpassed every other sub-Saharan country over the past decade, and the government has boosted spending to expand infrastructure. Fuel is typically delivered by tanker truck.

“The pipeline will increase energy security, aid economic development and reduce harmful emissions,” Black Rhino Chief Executive Officer Brian Herlihy said in the statement. The 50-50 joint venture with MOGS, a unit of Johannesburg-based Royal Bafokeng Holdings, will seek to raise at least $1 billion of senior debt financing.

The project, known as the Horn of Africa Pipeline, includes an import facility and 950,000 barrels of storage capacity in Damerjog, Djibouti, linked to a storage terminal in Awash, Ethiopia.

The 20-inch (51-centimetre) line is capable of transporting 240,000 barrels a day of fuel. The concession period after commercial operations start is for as many as 30 years.

Looking to conquer

Ethiopia and Djibouti have invested heavily in joint infrastructure, in a bid to make the make the Ethiopia-Djibouti belt the logistics hub of the continent in the long-term, but more immediately for the wider East and Central Africa.

In the meantime, both countries benefit from economic integration, with Ethiopia gaining access to the sea and Djibouti gaining

Nearly 99% of imports from fast-growing Ethiopia pass through its neighbour, in June the two countries oversaw the completion of a railway linking their two capitals Addis Ababa and Djibouti.

(READ: Hurray! Gamechanger Djibouti-Ethiopia railway ready, will cut goods travel time from two days to 10 hours).

The ambition is that the link might eventually extend across the continent to West Africa.

Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn attended the ceremonial laying of the last track in the 752-kilometre (481-mile) railway, financed and built by China.

The first scheduled train is expected to use the desert line in October, reducing transport time between the capitals to less than 10 hours, rather than the two days it currently takes for heavy goods vehicles using a congested mountain road.

Another new line linking Djibouti and the northern Ethiopian town of Mekele is also due to be built, but this is not the extent of the project’s ambition.

Djibouti, the smallest state in the Horn of Africa, is embarking on large infrastructure projects, building six new ports and two airports in the hope of becoming the commercial hub of East Africa.

Indicative of the strategic thinking of Djibouti, Abubaker Hadi, chairman of Djibouti Port Authority, said in June that therailway is a step towards a trans-continental line reaching all the way to the Gulf of Guinea, in West Africa.

“We are already the gateway to Ethiopia. We intend to continue this railway line to South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Cameroon to connect the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean,” said Hadi.

Djibouti, the smallest state in the Horn of Africa, is embarking on large infrastructure projects, building six new ports and two airports in the hope of becoming the commercial hub of East Africa.

“Infrastructure is coming very late to Africa. It is impossible for a truck to cross the continent. To transport goods from the east coast to the west coast of Africa, it is necessary to circle the continent by boat,” Hadi said of a sea voyage that can take more than three weeks. A trans-Africa railway is feasible “in seven or eight years,” he said, as long as conflicts in South Sudan and CAR come to an end.

“Infrastructure is coming very late to Africa. It is impossible for a truck to cross the continent. To transport goods from the east coast to the west coast of Africa, it is necessary to circle the continent by boat,” Hadi said of a sea voyage that can take more than three weeks.

A trans-Africa railway is feasible “in seven or eight years,” he said, as long as conflicts in South Sudan and the Central African Republic Republic (CAR) come to an end.

Hurry up for Kenya

The reference to the conflict in South Sudan is significant, because it is seen as one of the reasons for a similar project in which Ethiopia signed up to; the Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor.

LAPSSET is the Kenyan government’s biggest infrastructure project. It envisages the construction of a port, power plant, railway and other facilities from the Lamu port, through to South Sudan and Ethiopia.

A desalination plant will also be built in Lamu to address water shortages in the area.

Kenya’s Treasury has estimated the Lapsset project will cost $26 billion. East Africa’s largest economy envisages also building resort cities, an international airport and an inter-regional highway, according to the government’s website.

However, LAPSSET has been hit by delay and security problems. Lamu borders Somalia, where the al-Qaeda-linked militants have waged an insurgency since 2006.

They’ve also carried out raids along Kenya’s coast, including one in Mpeketoni, near Lamu, in June 2014 in which at least 60 people died.

The national government has taken measures to improve security in the area, including starting construction of a border fence.

The deadly new war in South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, that broke out in December 2013 following a political fall-out between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, took another layer of shine over the project.

It is not clear if the Djibouti-Ethiopia pipeline will affect Addis Ababa’s interest in LAPSSET. In all likelihood, it will be completed as it’s not affected by Somalia and South Sudan instability.

Perhaps aware that not everyone would wait, Kenya is frantically trying to jumpstart the project.

In July, it was reported that Kenyan and U.S. companies were negotiating a potential multibillion-dollar agreement with the Kenyan government to help develop LAPSSET.

Discussions were led by Aeolus Kenya Ltd., a closely held power and infrastructure developer known as AKL, he said in a phone interview on July 21.

The group of U.S. companies interested in the project, includes Bechtel Group Inc.

Discussions about the deal coincided with U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Kenya.

Article source: NewAfricaBusinessNews